To The Modern Day Woman.

There is a certain roadmap to what a successful life looks like if you are a woman in your late twenties or thirties – complete your degree, get married, settle down, have children, work at some middling career which will accommodate society’s expectations of you as a mother and a woman – or even, give it all up to be a stay-at-home mother to lovingly raise your children, look after the house and love your husband. It is the right thing to do.

Young girl thinking with abstract icons on her head

The problem with this traditional model is that there are so many women out there who are not meeting those expectations today and have deemed themselves as failures in life – single women, childless couples, women who have chosen their careers over family life for now. They are made to feel guilty about not being able to balance it all – university degree in one hand and child in the other.

Think about all the terms that still swirl around in our community today – the helpless widow, the barren wife, the career-obssessed lady, the zealous feminist, the single mother – all these are still spoken with a hint of disdain that still lingers in hushed echoes from not so long ago and not so far away. Spinster suggests that there is something inherently unattractive about the woman while bachelor still offers an air of availability and choice.

Think about this – where in the world in the past could a woman be single, be without child or not be aspiring towards motherhood and not be judged? That’s right – the convents or the monasteries were a place for women who did not have to burn in society’s harsh glare.

Pretty young woman with sketched strong and muscled arms

The converse of that is the burden of the superwoman – that Mother’s Day revered picture of the supermom who was able to balance her career, her family and manage her home. Somehow the world has left her unscathed and she emerges from all of life’s chaos smelling of roses. The Proverbs 31 woman on steroids – this impossible aspiration of the woman who has it all together. Yet if we looked a little closer at the picture we realise that there is something that has been sacrificed in the midst of it all – her self.

Someone once gave the analogy of the hobs on a stove. There are four hobs on a stove – one represents your family, one represents your home, one represents your career and one represents your own wellbeing. The problem is, only two hobs can be on full flame at any one point.

Women traditionally filled the supporting role – in a time where it was emerging that most households needed double incomes to manage, Mum would choose a less demanding job to add to the family income while juggling the family and the home needs. All this would be done at the expense of her wellbeing – her time, her dreams and her ambitions would be sacrificed because someone needed to look after the kids and the house, and traditionally it was not going to be him.

Image of businesswoman looking in telescope standing atop of roc

The thing is, in this day and age, most women are as accomplished as men when it comes to the level of education they have. They were taught about equality and how they could be anything they wanted. Some women remain dreaming of being mothers all their lives, while others have nurtured hopes of climbing corporate ladders or doing what they are truly passionate about.

The unfair thing however, is that motherhood is a time sensitive issue – the ovaries have a finite best before date, and so you can’t put off motherhood indefinitely in order to focus on your career. Women who place their career as a priority ahead of the nobility of motherhood are perceived to be self-serving and somehow lesser.

Women can’t have it all, and that is a true fact in this day and age in our still very patriarchal society. We make the distinction between caregivers and breadwinners, traditionally attributing the former to women and the latter to men. Women are expected to sacrifice their needs and wants in order to maintain the stability of the home.

Mothers are given extended maternal leaves while men get a paltry two weeks to look after their wives and their homes before returning back to work to bring home the bacon. As explained in this wonderful TED talk,  there is some progress in some developed nations, however. Governments like Norway and Denmark are recognising the interlinked importance between family life and work productivity, and are investing and engaging in a workplace flexibility that allows either Mum or Dad to stay at home to raise their kids. True equality would have somewhat arrived then – traditional roles giving way to reflect the actual needs of this day and age.

It’s not easy to be a modern day woman, a mother, a contributing member of society and a loving wife. These are high expectations of women who are still taking tentative steps towards fulfilling all these roles expected of them, to somehow wear all these different hats successfully.

Happy woman jumping on blossom meadow. Beautiful day on field.

So here’s to all the women who are trekking the path less taken and struggling with a deep sense of guilt and confusion. Stop comparing yourselves to this false image of what society or indeed you have placed upon yourselves. You are not broken and you are not a crazy cat lady. Know who you are, do what it is you love and scrunch up that roadmap to success and make your own happiness.

One Flu Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

For the last week I have been fighting what is commonly known as the man flu. It started off with me waking up Thursday twilight, at about 3 or 4 am unnaturally thirsty and achy, and I got out of bed and downed about half a litre of water and a couple of Panadols before returning to a fitful sleep drenched in sweat before waking up for classes the next day.

Dinner with my brother and sister-in-law that night, and no amount of Japanese food could comfort my unease and developing whole-body-aches including my spasming back muscles.

Man About To Sneeze

Friday and it was full-blown – a nose that could not decide whether it was blocked or running, no appetite, generalised muscle aches, a low grade temperature and just a general sense of unease. This one even came with chills and shakes as well, a particularly virulent strain of virus. 

I told my Emergency Medicine colleagues about my predicament and got about as much sympathy as you would get from a jaded war veteran to a young boy who was crying because he had scraped his knee in the schoolyard – I was told to take my Paracetamol with a cupful of cement and to harden the ___! up.

Having been struck by what even society takes a good laugh at, I find it quite interesting that in my misery I did regress a little – I was feeling quite miserable and sorry for myself, I catastrophised and wondered if I would ever feel well again. I just wanted to be tucked into bed, sang lullabies to, given regular paracetamol and ibuprofen and warm, comforting food until the fever broke.


In my regression, my mind goes back to my childhood and to all the remedies we were given especially as Asian children when we were unwell.

Fevers were treated with all kinds of witch’s brew medications – we drank reindeer horn soup – a clear water-like substance that tasted as bad as it sounded (poor Rudolph, you meant different things to us as Chinese kids). Or Mum would set out to braise oranges with some salt for us (you can do that?!). Or – here’s my favourite memory – in order to break the fever she would put a de-shelled hard-boiled egg into a handkerchief along with a coin (either the copper 1 sen or the ‘silver’ 5 sen coin) and then rub our bodies with it until we broke into a sweat. Two things would happen – the coin would change colour and, strangely enough, we would feel better after that.

Whether or not we had to eat the egg to complete the treatment is something I choose to forget.

I wish someone would figure the age-old conundrum as well – to shower, or not to shower? (Not all men who grapple with this question have the flu necessarily). And if so, hot or cold? An icy shower might bring a nice little adrenaline shock to the system and cool you down for awhile, but there is much comfort to be had in a hot shower (although in my mind’s eye the viruses party a little harder in your warm wet body).  

Little girl drinking cough syrup

Having the flu reminds us that no matter how able-bodied and well-exercised, how rich or how much we do to control our lives that sometimes we can still be levelled by things that we cannot see and are beyond our control. Apart from vaccinations and good hand hygiene, good doctors would send you home with advice that very little can be done about most flus, and that you will usually get better. It is both a humbling and human admission that we have yet to come up with effective medications to deal with the mass of ever-evolving viruses meaningfully.

It is in our times of misery as well when are reminded to be grateful for the simple things in life – an unblocked nose, being able to taste a delicious meal, to even have an appetite, being able to bask in the sun, or to go around thinking with a clear head; it gives us a chance to consider our mortality while praying it does not contribute to our actual mortality. We really are lucky to be healthy most days, really.

It is also in these times of enforced rest where we are reminded about what a luxury it is for us to have someone to look after us, to worry about us and to comfort us. We may be strong individualistic people when well, but remember keenly that we are someone’s child, or sibling, or housemate, or friend, or spouse when we are unwell. Much can be said about warm beds to be tucked into, Panadol delivered on demand, lemon barley on the boil and warm chicken soup to thaw the most miserable soul. 

So here’s hoping you don’t catch the flu this season – rug up, take enough Vitamin C until you glow a healthy orange and avoid hanging out with sick friends.

Too late for some of our friends, I guess. I hope you feel better soon.

I may know of a doctor who actually sympathises with your condition.